Friday, 10 December 2010

Gujarat, bits and bobs

So, I've come to the conclusion that 7,000 steps is quite a lot of steps. Neil and I's first stop was Junagadh where we climbed to the famous temples on top of a big hill. My calves hurt thanks to the same 7,000 steps on the way down (why isn't there ever a zip-wire down from these places?) but it was well worth it.

In other news, I crashed into a water buffalo. On the bumpy, dusty road to Simbor - a tiny village near Diu with a pristine beach, and friendly welcoming garamboard players, a buffalo burst out of the bushes, narrowly missing Ivan and Tanika on the bike in front and straight into my path. Luckily we weren't going too quickly so the collision wasn't too major, but even so I went straight into its body and the bike and I fell. Glad we weren't traveling faster - they're huge beasts, pretty sure I would've come off worse. So that was exciting!

Next up on the Gujarat tour was Porbandar - birth place of Gandhi - which was nice, if unremarkable. I recently read his semi-autobiographical book didn't endear him to me. Obviously he did some amazing things politically, but the book focuses on his spiritual and religious life and he does some stuff that's just... well ridiculous religious superstition with no basis or explanation. Some stuff that's painfully close to Jehovah's Witnesses type behaviour. As an example, he denies his son food (chicken soup and milk) that may save his life during severe illness against all the advice of the doctors, saying the God will take him if it's the right time (perhaps one of the most idiotic things its possible to say - why bother trying to cure an illness at all? In fact, why bother eating or sleeping - God'll see you right if you believe hard enough. ARGH!). Hypocritically, he takes milk himself later in his life in a fight against illness, fully aware he was breaking spiritual vows. He spends a long time talking about the virtue of practices like celibacy without actually explaining why they're good things, he just makes comments like 'and I came to realise how important living a simple life/being vegetarian/being celibate/practicing mystery god-worshiping act 'X' is to be closer to God'. Meh, the book just made me angry almost every time I picked it up, got about 3/4 of the way through and couldn't stomach the rest.

Now I'm in Bhuj, and lovely little city that sadly was devastated by an earthquake, killing 15,000 people - 10% of its inhabitants. Whilst the people are friendly and some of the buildings are impressive, it has an air of faded grace with crumbling ruins of the large mahals dotted around and rubbish collecting in huge quantities. Still, the city is on the mend and many of the temples may yet be returned to their former glory. The area around Bhuj is filled with smaller villages famous for their craftwork, so I hired a bike and zoomed around a few, the nicest being Mandvi where I spent some time on a lovely beach and finally got around to buying some Christmas presents...

Ramble time!

I struck a small girl in the face today. It was an accident, and it wasn't hard - I was just shrugging off her hand as she clung to my shirt and asked for money, but still hard not to feel guilty. I guess I'm writing about this because it reflects the wider guilt you feel repeatedly - daily - denying cute, skinny children money. And the guilt is why it works, and why they do it. Or, more accurately, why they're made to do it by the organisers of the local beggars who often starve or even mutilate the children to evoke sympathy and then pocket the money to buy a second car or a new watch.

And I suppose the reason I'm writing about that - zoom out again - is, well; India can be a hard country to be in. Because, for all its beauty, its rich and diverse cultural traditions and its good-natured people, India is a country that simply doesn't work. In the 60-odd years since independence from the British India has failed, and is continuing to fail (although of course the Brits involvement had and still has a lot to do with this). Personally I believe there isn't a country or political/organisational system that does 'work' (that I know of) but India is so far from even just getting by that seeing the chaos, the levels of poverty and misery or the standards of hygiene and infrastructure can be tough. I mean, half of the country's billion plus inhabitants are practically slaves - being born in India is a life sentence of servitude and often abuse for almost all women (example: '51% of Indian men say wife beating is justified, 54% women agree, especially when dinner is burned or they leave home without husband's permission' - this boggles my mind and pretty much makes me think we're all doomed). Then there are the lower castes, such as the 'untouchables' (so-called for a reason - literally not touched by other castes), who frequently have their rights and liberties taken away, despite the supposed abolishment of the caste system.

I could go on but I suppose the point is that whilst it has many positive qualities, India seems to present humanities' ugliness in a very stark way. The corruption and greed, the exploitation of the weak, desperate or unfortunate, the predation, the violence, the selfishness, the cruelty and the indifference to it all - it's all here, in spades.

As for why I'm writing about that, well, I guess just to let readers know its not all fun and games; only some of the time do you get to enjoy the delights of conjunctivitis or crashing into buffalo. The rest of the time it can get kinda heavy.

Well I fly back in a few days. Seems a shame to finish on a sombre tone so I'll add that I've had an awesome time! Almost entirely illness free, far easier socially, very little stress, lots of fun and adventure. Already semi-planning my trip back here next year; going to fly to Mumbai and finally see the south, and maybe head on to SE Asia. Anyways, hope my ramblings haven't bored any of you to death. The next post will be about POKER, hopefully retelling my victory of the DTD 1k next week.

That's all, folks.

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